The Onions of Certaldo are so sweet and juicy they were immortalised in Boccaccio’s iconic 14th century work “The Decameron”. The two varieties of this onion are cultivated only in Tuscany.
The Historical Roots
The tradition of cultivating the onions of Certaldo is one of the most historically entrenched cases of a tradition lasting virtually unchanged until today. The onions are an iconic symbol of Certaldo, an old countryside town in Firenze. So symbolic that the onions grown here were even recorded in the iconic work “The Decameron”, written by Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio (13-13 – 1375) who was born in this very same town. In the year 2000, these onions were made a presidium by the Slow Food organisation, and are now packaged with the registered “Certaldo” trademark.
Certaldo Onions: Production and Characteristics
The production area of the Certaldo onions in Tuscany includes: Gambassi Terme, Castelfiorentino, Barberino Val d’Elsa, San Gimignano and Montespertoli. These regions are very warm, and the soil is of good quality and ranges from hard and sandy, clay-like or gravely drained wet-lands. It is here that the red Certaldo onion is cultivated. The onion is spherical in the centre, and markedly flattened at the bulb and root. The outer layer is a purplish red, while the inner layers are white with hints of red specked throughout, and are usually a mid-to-large size. Certaldo onions come in two varieties. The “Statina” variety is round, a light purple colour and characterised by a juicy sweetness. They are planted between July and August, transplanted in October and November, and ready for raw consumption in May (termed “cipollotti” meaning “spring onions”). The other variety is called “Vernina” has a more sunken shape than the Statina variety, and its characterised by a vivid red outer layer and its strong “bite”. Their seeds are sown between October and January, transplanted between March and May, and harvested between August and the following October. These are usually sold ripened after the outer layer has dried.
There are several recipes which perfectly utilise the Certaldo onion’s unique characteristics, such as Onion Soup, Lesso Rifatto (A dish of re-styled boiled mince and onions, known as Lesso Francesina in Florence), and an onion “marmalade” known as “La marmellata di Cipolle di Certaldo”. While called a marmalade, it is closer in essence to mustard and it brings out the natural sweetness of the onions. It was created by Chef Sara Conforti of the Osterio del Vicario restaurant, and has been sold by the Certaldo Consortium since 2000. The marmalade is 75% onion, with the remainder being vinegar and sugar producing a delightfully sweet yet sour taste. It pairs well with cheeses, boiled meats, pork or game and is also excellent for berry-based desserts.